At first, Leonard and Helen might have seemed like an unlikely pairing.
Leonard John Christian Wiese was a city boy through and through, born and raised in Chicago. Helena Margaret Nelson, on the other hand, was a farm girl from rural southeastern South Dakota. Chicago’s population in 1920 numbered over two and half million, while the largest town within the vicinity of Helen’s family’s farm had a population of only five thousand.
Their heritages also differed. Leonard’s parents had immigrated to America from Germany as children, while Helen’s parents had immigrated to America from Denmark.1 However, despite different familial origins and native languages, Leonard and Helen had a surprising amount in common.
Both were born in the year 1900, and both were younger children in large families—Leonard the last of five, and Helen the sixth of nine.2
Both lost their fathers as teenagers. Leonard’s father, Fred, died when Leonard was thirteen years old, and perhaps because of the need to help support his mother, Leonard entered the workforce after completing the eighth grade.3 Helen’s father, also named Fred, died when she was seventeen; shortly thereafter, she began teaching country school.4
Both saw older brothers serve in the First World War.5
Both lost older sisters to tragic circumstances in the year 1918.6
Both were raised as members of the Lutheran church.7
Perhaps their most significant commonality, however, was their shared love of music. Leonard was a talented violinist, while Helen played the piano, and their talents made them popular entertainers within their respective social circles.8
As the story goes, as a young man, Leonard worked at the docks in Chicago while his older brother Oliver worked for the railroad. Oliver obtained tickets west so that he and Leonard could seek seasonal farm work, and the industrious brothers wound up in Yankton County, South Dakota.9 Leonard, of course, had brought along his violin, and it has been surmised that one way or another, word spread that a young man with musical talent was in the area. Wouldn’t he get along swell with a certain young pianist? Before long, the Wiese brothers had made the acquaintance of the Nelson sisters, among them Helen and her older sister Louise.10
Oliver and Louise married in Yankton on 01 June 1922, and after a courtship documented in a few surviving snapshots, which offer a glimpse of light-hearted moments shared together, Leonard and Helen married in Chicago on 05 January 1924.11
Happily, music remained a shared passion throughout their twenty-three years of marriage, and it was their delight to engage their two daughters in their very own Wiese Family Band.12
Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading